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People v. Warwick

March 4, 2010


Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Riverside County, Elisabeth Sichel, Judge. Affirmed. (Super. Ct. No. RIF136163).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Moore, J.



Defendant Ashlee Renee Warwick gave birth to her son in her bedroom and concealed the birth, just as she had concealed her pregnancy. By the time the infant was discovered, he was seriously ill. Defendant was convicted of child abuse and neglect under Penal Code § 273a, subdivision (a)*fn1 and the jury returned a true finding on an enhancement alleging that she had personally inflicted great bodily injury on her child. (§ 12022.7, subd. (d).) Defendant, now on probation, contests the true finding on the enhancement. She argues that her actions did not "personally inflict[]" great bodily injury within the meaning of the statute, and further claims the jury was improperly instructed on this point. We find that defendant's contentions are without merit and affirm.


Defendant was 18 years old when she gave birth to her son, later named Cameron, in April 2007. At the time, she was living with her mother, Barbara Villa, and her stepfather, Ray Villa,*fn2 as well as defendant's aunt, Becky Hughey, and defendant's younger brother. Although she had apparently talked to her boyfriend and at least one friend about her pregnancy, she concealed her pregnancy from her family.*fn3 She had seen doctors twice in April 2007 for other reasons, but did not inform them she was pregnant and did not seek any prenatal care.

In the early morning of April 15, defendant was at home and began having contractions. Ray was also at home, but defendant did not ask him for assistance. By 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, defendant's contractions were five to 10 minutes apart. Barbara worked the graveyard shift and was home sleeping by this point, but defendant did not seek her help.

According to defendant, the birth happened later in the morning, sometime after 9:30, perhaps around 10:30. She delivered the placenta and cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors; the cord did not bleed. Defendant did not hear the baby cry, but believed he was breathing. She "wiped it off a little bit, cleaned his mouth off with a little, like a wet cloth." Defendant stated that she "tucked my blanket around him,"*fn4 after which she fell asleep for 45 minutes or so. She woke when she heard the baby whimpering. Defendant felt exhausted, but she made sure the baby was breathing. She tried to breast-feed, but failed when the baby would not "latch on." After that, he did not whimper again, and according to defendant, he fell asleep.

At one point, Barbara came to the door, and defendant told her mother that she was tired. According to Barbara, this occurred at about 1:00 p.m., and she left defendant alone. Barbara returned, however, at about 3:00 p.m., and this time defendant opened the door and let her in. Defendant was very pale, and staggered out and went into the bathroom. Barbara went into the room and saw the baby on the bed. She called for help, and both Ray and Hughey responded.

Ray had CPR training from the military and through his job. At the time he entered the room, the baby had a blanket covering its forehead, but he was not wrapped in the blanket and was otherwise uncovered. Ray realized the baby was breathing and began performing CPR. Ray noticed the baby's nose and mouth had been cleared and saw that the umbilical cord had been cut. The baby was cool to the touch, was not crying, and appeared to be in distress. Hughey, meanwhile, called the paramedics. She described defendant as not acting like herself and thought she was in shock.

The paramedics arrived and discovered the baby had a very low respiratory rate, was pale, and generally unresponsive. The baby was nearly in cardiac arrest. At Riverside Community Hospital, emergency room doctor Ernest Woodhouse observed that the baby had a very low level of oxygen, was quite cool, and was in respiratory failure. The baby's temperature upon admission was 81 degrees.*fn5 He was also in a coma, and the doctor described his overall condition as life-threatening.

Dr. Louis Martincheck, a neonatal specialist, described the baby as the most hypothermic he had ever seen. According to Martincheck, leaving an infant uncovered for five to six hours would explain the low body temperature, which is not a condition that is achieved quickly. Martincheck believed the baby would have died without medical intervention.

The baby was transferred to Loma Linda Children's Hospital. Dr. Elba Fayard, clinical director for the neonatal intensive care unit, was involved in admitting the baby and reviewed his records. He had some epidural bleeding on the brain, a fairly common condition probably caused by his movement through the birth canal. The baby also had dead brain cells in the center of his brain, unrelated to the epidural bleeding and probably caused by the hypothermia and lack of oxygen. This condition was consistent with not having been swaddled or receiving proper care for six hours after birth. As a result, the baby might experience learning or behavioral problems in the future, though it was also possible he would suffer no long-term consequences. Such problems might not be noticeable until he reaches school age.

The mother was also treated at the hospital by Dr. Serafin Salazar, an obstetrician and gynecologist. Defendant showed signs of severe preeclampsia - elevated blood pressure, blurry vision, and some abnormal blood tests. Preeclampsia is a potentially deadly complication, and an expert for defendant testified at trial that it could have affected her cognitive functioning. There was no evidence, however, that defendant's condition worsened after she gave ...

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